There has been a lot of commotion regarding the request from the FBI to get a backdoor into iPhones.
And on the surface this may seem as a quite straight forward case. The FBI wants access to the iPhone of a known terrorist, can’t get in, and puts blame on Apple for not having a back door available for them.
That is at least what the headlines tell us in the media. However, the terrorist iPhone is as it is, and there is no back door solution to get into it, so this is actually a debate of a future back door into iPhones, and not the terrorist one. Besides, there have been many companies that have publicly announced that they could crack the phone in question within hours as it is now. And for apple to do something about it would only have an effect on future cases, not on the current one as the software is as it is…
What they try to do is to subtly accusing Apple of supporting terrorism by having devices that are too secure. Taste that for a moment… Too secure… Of course, this puts water on the mill for certain presidential candidates, who makes this into a populistic message easy to understand for the general public.
Naturally, we all want terrorists and potential terrorists to be caught, and also to unravel their network and files, but at what cost? Would we subject all the good guys who do nothing wrong to espionage from the FBI or others, and would we risk others to get the key to the back door and spy on all the people whom we want to protect?
So, if we dive a bit deeper into this problem, there are other sides to it that never surfaces in the populistic press.
FBI wants Apple to give them generic access to iPhones. Apple won’t have a say in who they spy on, in what markets, or why, they just provide access. Now, this would be against the law in a number of countries, and would hurt Apple’s sales in many regions of the world. This doesn’t only apply in the obvious regions, but also in Europe and the United States. Far from everyone is thrilled that the FBI can access their files and e-mails at will, and I’m not talking about people with nefarious intentions here, but the general public.
Secondly, who would regulate that access over time? Would the FBI be trusted to handle this responsibly? What about the CIA, the NSA and others? Will similar entities in other countries get the same access? And since iPhones are all over the world, this would give these bureaus easy access to phones all over the world, not only in their home countries. Bear in mind that the NSA, FBI, CIA and others doesn’t have a stellar reputation when it comes to who they spy on and why.
And if this is a ‘skeleton key’ as described in the New York Times, then how long would it take before that key went astray? How long would it take for someone else to crack that key code? This could easily end as a nightmare for Apple, where they have no control of who spies on their customers. Apple is of course completely aware of this, and to have an out of their control skeleton key would be a disaster.
Is this about the privacy of the individual? In part it is, but to me it is more about not creating a back door with good intentions that at some point WILL get out of control and work as well for our enemies as it works for us. Probably even better for our enemies.
For that reason, I strongly believe that creating such a back door over time will have the opposite effect of what the FBI advocates, and I hope Apple stand firm in this battle.